I was recently fortunate enough to interview Kaye Baillie, the author of one of the most heart-warming books ever, Boo Loves Books (where two of my loves- books and cute dogs- come together in one beautifully told and illustrated story).
In addition to Boo Loves Books, I recommend pulling out one of Kaye’s other books, The Friendly Games, to start discussions about the upcoming Olympics and learn about how a young Australian influenced the closing ceremony of the games.
I asked Kaye all about her process for writing and any advice she has for aspiring young writers:
Where do you get ideas for your books?
Ideas are everywhere. They might come from observation – such as seeing a little beetle trying to climb over a pile of leaves. You could write a story about what the beetle is doing and where he wants to go with themes of persistence and courage? Or you might hear an interesting news story and want to write a true story based on that situation or person?
The trick is to recognise or acknowledge the idea, then think about whether it is something a) that you like/wish to expand on and b) what the idea could become. Here are several examples of where I found ideas that became actual books:
- For BOO LOVES BOOKS I found a news article about a program in the USA where kids who were reluctant readers, could go to an animal shelter and read to the cats. For the kids this would mean reading to an audience who would not judge them or tell them if they’d made a mistake. For the cats, it would be welcome company. I wrote my own story based on this idea where Phoebe is worried about making mistakes when she reads until she meets Boo and realises that he is worried about things too. She puts aside her own fears to help him and, in the process, becomes a more confident reader. And Boo finds a true friend.
- In THE FRIENDLY GAMES I came across an article on the internet about a boy, John Ian Wing who wrote a letter during the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. His letter made history when it brought about a change to the Closing Ceremony. I loved John’s courage and thoughtfulness, so I wanted to write his story.
- In my latest book, WHEN THE WATERHOLE DRIES UP, I actually made this one up based on a random idea about a boy in a bathroom and animals entering the house to take over the bathtub. I can’t really explain the reason for this idea, but it shows how funny little thoughts come into our minds that might just turn into a story.
What is the process you use to write your books?
Once I’ve decided to commit to writing a draft of the story, I do just that. I would have already thought of the main character, what the problem is or what is the purpose of the story. So I begin to write, very roughly, ideas that I have. It’s important to write down everything you think of that might form part of the story. It doesn’t matter what you write down as this part of the process is just for you to look at. It’s a way to brainstorm. From your ideas you will decide on which bits might work in the story. So I usually try to put down things like:
- Here is my main character.
- Here is a bit about them so the reader can relate to them.
- Here is their problem.
- Here is what the main character is going to do about solving their problem or achieving their goal.
- Here is the moment when the story is set in motion.
- Here are the obstacles that get in the way (obstacles create tension which makes a story exciting and also the obstacles are a way for the main character to show how they react to the obstacles which then help the reader learn more about this character).
- It’s also important to have a terrific ending. I find it’s really helpful to know my ending in the early draft. So I often think about that a lot early on.
How long does it take to write a book?
For a non-fiction story, like THE FRIENDLY GAMES which is a true story and is biographical, it took me about six months to do the research, revisions, fact checking and polishing of the text.
For WHEN THE WATERHOLE DRIES UP, which is fiction and is based on a particular style, cumulative text, I wrote the story over about two weeks but then spent probably another few weeks refining it.
When writing, students often only like to do one draft. How many drafts do you do when writing your books?
When I first began writing, I also liked to do only one draft. But that lead to lots of rejections! It’s so important to do your first draft, but then it is even more important to work on it many times. I put stories away at the end of the day, then when I go back to it the next day, I will begin revising. Then I put it away again and do the same. I don’t consider each revision a draft. Sometimes I might change a few sentences on one day, or maybe I will delete my first line and rewrite it, or I might delete an entire section. These are revisions that lead me to finalising a draft. A draft is when I believe the story is complete, is as good as I can make it and I don’t have any changes to make. Sometimes there will be three of these drafts, and sometimes there will be ten.
How do you get feedback on your ideas and your writing?
It’s essential to get feedback on your writing. It is through receiving feedback on my drafts that I am able to see where I can make changes and how I can improve my story. I am part of a critique group with three other authors. We share our stories with each other and make suggestions on how we think someone’s work could be improved and we also say nice things about the parts that we really like. Another reader might tell me if parts of my story don’t make sense to them. This happens because I have imagined something, but I have not written it in a way that is obvious to the reader. So I need to rewrite that. Or another reader might say that my ending was too predictable or maybe it happened too quickly, too abruptly or it was too easy for the main character to achieve their goal. So then I rework my ending.
You have written fiction and non-fiction books, what was the difference for you in writing these?
Non-fiction requires lots of research. In THE FRIENDLY GAMES I did things like visiting the building in Bourke Street, Melbourne where John lived. I searched the internet for news articles and anything I could find about him. I bought a CD from the National Library in Canberra which had a recorded interview with John so I could hear him speaking. All this takes a lot of time. Next, I had to decide which parts of my research would make it into the story and which to leave out. And because the story is non-fiction, I could not make anything up.
With fiction, there is a freedom to say whatever you want, and you can change your story in any way you choose. You can make up characters and dialogue and settings. You can write about monsters or pirates or people. There may be a bit of research in fiction, but not nearly as much as what is required for non-fiction. (For example, in WHEN THE WATERHOLE DRIES UP, I researched about native Australian animals and which ones were not nocturnal and which ones might live in an outback setting.)
Have you had a book rejected from a publisher?
Yes! Absolutely. I keep a spreadsheet and I can tell you that I have listed so many rejections. But with those rejections, came the knowledge that I needed to learn more about writing, to practice my writing, to read more books and study how a particular author wrote their story, to read the stories out loud and learn why it worked. I used to feel really bad for about two days after getting a rejection. But then I would get over that and I would think to myself, ‘I am going to write something better. I am going to work harder. And I am going to get published.’
Who influenced you to become a writer?
I decided by myself to become a writer. During the school holidays when I was at primary school, I used to write and illustrate stories with my sister, and we would love sharing our little books with each other. I loved that creativity. When I was older, I still had ideas popping into my head and I decided that the best way to keep those ideas, and to enjoy them, was to turn them into stories. It’s a magical thing to see an idea from my head become an actual story. It’s as if the characters I make up are real and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s also quite powerful because as the author, you get to decide what is going to happen to your characters.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Write things that make you feel buzzy and happy or that give you a feeling, any feeling really. Maybe you like sad stories or stories about helping the environment or stories that make people laugh out loud. Your best writing will be when you find a feeling. It might take you by surprise. You’ll know it when it happens. It could even be that you have used a wonderful word and it sounds so good when you say it out loud and it works so well in your story. If you don’t find a feeling in one story, write something else until you do.
What are your contact details (if teachers want to get in contact with you)?
Kaye’s Picture Story Books:
- BOO LOVES BOOKS illustrated by Tracie Grimwood and published by New Frontier Publishing
- THE FRIENDLY GAMES illustrated by Fiona Burrows and published by MidnightSun
- WHEN THE WATERHOLE DRIES UP illustrated by Max Hamilton and published by Windy Hollow Books